0700 Hours, Friday 4th April 1862.
Moorburn or Ashchester.
Colonel Turner Ashby, glanced down the length of his regiment of mounted men, satisfied, he rode to the head of the column. He gave a final salute to Major General Jackson, who stood on the porch of his headquarters. He raised his right arm and swept it forward, a signal for his troopers to advance. Shouts of men mixed, with the jingle of riding tack and the sound of creaking leather along with the footsteps of the horses, as the commands rippled down the column, announced that Ashby's Cavalry Regiment was on the move.
Ashby knew the mission was fraught with danger, but the majority of his regiment had been raised in the very territory they were headed for. Local boys from Langfold, Oakley and a score of other towns and farmsteads. They had volunteered for service last year, now they were going home. Jackson had supplied him with the latest information regarding the whereabouts of the Union troops. A line extending east to west from Portsdale through Kegford to Millwick, and possibly, from the latest information, Westwich too. In fact the Union troops had barely moved over the winter, making themselves at home in the towns, though they received little hospitality from the Virginia residents, who, almost to a man supported the southern cause.
The local knowledge of the countryside they would operate in, would give him a distinct advantage over the enemy. Even now he was recalling secret little paths, known only to someone born and raised in the area, he doubted there was so much as a blade of grass anywhere to the north, that was not known intimately by someone in the regiment.
The town now gave way to the Spring countryside as the column headed north, Turner Ashby at its head, was smiling.
1015 Hours, Friday 4th April, 1864.
Divisional HQ, Banks Division, Kegford.
Some three hours later, and around fifty or so miles to the north, Major General Nathaniel Banks was not smiling. He was pacing up and down his office, clutching a message he had received by telegraph from Washington less than thirty minutes before.
'Jackson's Division is believed to be in the south of your area.' He turned to to the major who was acting as his aide and held up the sheet of paper. 'That is about as much use as telling me that there is a needle in a haystack.'
The major remained silent, his boss wasn't expecting a reply from him.
'Seek out, bring to battle and destroy the enemy force,' Banks continued, still pacing the room. 'Easy to say, not so damn easy to do.' He stopped and looked down once again at the sheet in his hand before continuing. 'You have sufficient forces at your disposal to quickly expedite such an operation, it is imperative that Jackson is either destroyed or pushed back to the south. The divisions of Major General Fremont and Brigadier General Shields, are urgently required elsewhere.' He screwed up the message and threw it at the wall.
The major waited silently.
The general stood before the map on the wall. His three divisions were currently in excellent defensive positions, Jackson would be unable to slip past, more importantly they were no more than a day and a half's march away from each other, should support be needed. He knew he would have to reply to Washington soon, and the message would need to placate the high command.
His index finger moved down the road from Kegford, through Presthall to Oxmere. Some 23 miles. He then did the same from Portsdale to Hazelford, a distance of 12 miles. That would still cover all the roads leading north in the central and eastern sectors, with the added bonus of placing Shields Division only six miles from his own.
The problem was in the western zone, Fremont's Division was already stretched to cover both Westwich and Millwick. The force at Millwick could advance down to Langchester, his finger traced the route, that would put it just 20 miles from Oxmere. The problem was the other force at Westwich. If it advanced south, it would be really out on a limb with little chance of any support should Jackson choose that route north. He would telegraph John Fremont and James Shields before answering Washington, and seek their opinions on the general move south.
So with troops about to hit the road, it is time to think about the daily weather. The average temperature for April is 64 degrees Fahrenheit, with 11.7 rainy days in the month. Let us round that up to 12 days. For each day I shall roll a D6 with the following possible results.
1 – Heavy rain.
2 – Light rain.
3 through 6 – Dry.
The average rainfall for the month is 75mm (3 inches), so hardly monsoon type weather, even so, dirt tracks in any sort of wet weather, with men, horses and wagons will quickly turn it to a muddy morass. In heavy rain I will reduce movement by 3 miles or one campaign square per day. Light rain will only affect movement if it occurs on two consecutive days, or indeed follows heavy rain.
Rolling for the next four days produced the following:
Friday 4th April – Light rain.
Saturday 5th April – Dry.
Sunday 6th April – Heavy rain.
Monday 7th April – Dry.
Movement rates will only affect the travel on Sunday.
We know Jackson intended to set off north on Saturday morning, a dry day.
I have attached the map below, the full map first to get a general view, and a more zoomed in, and easier to read, close up of the southern section.
Confederate column B began Saturday morning at their camp at Ashchester, a decision had to be made on which route north they would take, either westerly via Barport and Norden or the more easterly route via Ottermere and Whitehalgh, an odd or even roll of the die, set the column off on the latter route. By 1600 they were making camp by the bridge over the Little Swale River at 'C25.' Sunday's heavy rain slowed down the advance a little and camp was made at F21 just south of where the Swale and Little Swale Rivers meet. At 1400 on Monday they reached 'F17' Langchester, and as this had been chosen as an advanced supply base, a halt was ordered.
Confederate column A could go north via Foxwell and Henhampton or less likely, Foxwell to Keldon. A die roll decided on the former. At 1600 Saturday they reached Henhampton, by 1600 on Sunday they camped at 'M22' some three miles north of Middleholm, Finally they reached Oxmere around 1500 hours on Monday, this was the site of the advanced supply base, so the column halted here to await its supply train to arrive later in the day.
Turning to the northern half of the map. All the Union divisions stayed in their starting positions until Monday morning. This was again decided by a die roll, they could have moved on either Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
Shields Division reached his planned destination of Hazelford by 1600 on Monday. Banks Division was headed for Oxmere, but had stopped for the night at Presthall, Finally, Fremont's Division,(Fremont 'b') or at least a part of it, I rolled a die and Major General Fremont was with this portion of his division. Moved to 'F16' some three miles north west of Langchester at 1600. The detached portion of his division had stayed put in Westwich. (Fremont 'a')
Putting the positions of both Union and Confederate on the same map, gives us an interesting situation at 1600 Monday. Fremont's weakened division is just three miles from Confederate column B and Shields Divison is just six miles from Confederate column A.
The next thing to do is see who puts out scouts, pickets etc. and if they find each other. Already rumours abound, about Jackson's force being close to Langchester or Oxmere. Also remember Ashby's Cavalry, they set off a day earlier than the rest of the Confederate Corps and by 1600 on Monday are in the rear of the Union forces! More of them later...